Psychologists Can Foretell the Future, But…Their Lightning Never Strikes Twice

By Shlomo Maital  


   As I look back on my academic career, among my many regrets are the 80 scholarly papers I published.  I find no evidence that even a single one did any good at all in the world.

   Now come two articles that expose some of the flaws in ‘scientific research’. 

   An article in Nature magazine []  reports on an experiment by an eminent psychologist, Darryl Bem:

Daryl Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, showed student volunteers 48 words and then abruptly asked them to write down as many as they could remember. Next came a practice session: students were given a random subset of the test words and were asked to type them out. Bem found that some students were more likely to remember words in the test if they had later practised them. Effect preceded cause.   Bem published his findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP) along with eight other experiments  providing evidence for what he refers to as “psi”, or psychic effects.


The problem with this research, the article notes, is this:  Three research teams independently tried to replicate the effect Bem had reported and, when they could not, they faced serious obstacles to publishing their results.   


    Journals compete with one another to publish exotic results.  All too often, those experimental results just don’t replicate. But that’s not interesting, so why publish it? Result: False results live forever.   In psychology, lightning never strikes twice. One amazing experiment – never to be duplicated.   Try 1,000 times to get a desired result, and like in Las Vegas, get it randomly that one time…publish it…and bask in glory. 


  But it gets worse.  According to:  Bones, A.K. (2012) We knew the future all along: Scientific hypothesizing is much more accurate than other forms of precognition- A satire in one part. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 3, 307-309:

   “…roughly 97% of psychologists’ a priori hypotheses are supported. Says the pseudonymous author:   “With a near 100% accuracy rate, psychological scientists have clearly demonstrated that psychological scientists already know what is going to occur. This makes the subsequent empirical confirmation superfluous. Once predicted, there is no logical justification for expending the resources to actually conduct the data collection and analysis.  ”


    Yup.  97% of null hypotheses are true.  I wonder about the other three per cent. 


  To be fair, the same story prevails in my discipline, economics, and in many others. 

   The so-called scientific method is in fact highly unscientific.   As we academics throw mud at Wall St., for its lack of integrity, we are rolling in it ourselves.